NBA Teams Already Regretting Their 2021 Offseason Pickups
Whether piloting a contender, leading a years-long rebuild or operating anywhere in the middle, NBA executives should always be looking ahead.
As external observers, though, it's our job to analyze situations from every available angle.
Here, we're using that flexibility to look back on some offseason additions that already look regrettable.
It's early, sure, but some raised alarm sirens as soon as they appeared in the transaction log. Others are off to such a rough start it's hard to keep hope alive for a turnaround.
Let the second-guessing commence.
Los Angeles Clippers
Before lamenting L.A.'s missteps, let's start with a quick hat tip in this team's direction. The Clippers could have collapsed without Kawhi Leonard, but they've held it together with MVP-caliber play from Paul George and the Association's third-best defense.
Saying that, they are succeeding in spite of their offseason additions.
Eric Bledsoe's second tour of duty with the Clips has been disastrous. He has never been a great shooter, but this is especially awful (39.7 percent from the field, 24.5 percent from range). Ideally, he would be making up for this on the defensive end, but it's no better there. L.A.'s defense is 16.9 points worse per 100 possessions when he plays, and his matchups are shooting 2.7 percentage points higher against him than they do on average.
He has finally hinted at turning the corner lately (three straight outings of 50-plus percent shooting), but given the stink bombs he dropped before this mini-stretch, it's too early to give him the benefit of the doubt. That's particularly true when Patrick Beverley, the primary sacrifice in the Bledsoe trade, has outperformed him in every aspect. FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR metric has Beverley as a top-70 player and Bledsoe outside of the top 200.
Beyond Bledsoe, the Clippers are getting nothing out of Justise Winslow, and they might have targeted a more polished prospect than Keon Johnson if they knew they could compete without Leonard.
Los Angeles Lakers
Technically, there's time for Russell Westbrook to find his footing with the Lakers, but unless you're a glass-overflowing optimist or directly related to the Brodie, why would you keep hope alive any longer?
All of the worries initially attached to his Hollywood homecoming have come to fruition. When he hits the hardwood, the offense can't breathe and the defense can't stop the bleeding. In statistical terms, the offense is 7.4 points worse per 100 possessions with him than without, and the defensive difference is 5.7 points per 100 possessions in the wrong direction.
That's a total swing of 13.2 points per 100 possessions into the red by a player who will make $44.2 million this season and $47.1 million next season (it's technically a player option, but there is less than zero chance he declines it). Not to mention, he's a player L.A. drained its asset pool to acquire, as the Brodie blockbuster cost it Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick.
"To me, he's best with the second unit, having the ball in his hands and pushing the pace," a scout said of Westbrook, per The Athletic's Sam Amick. "... He is a poor defender on a team FULL of poor defenders. Not a great fit there either. It is just a matter of time before the (Westbrook) volcano erupts."
Among 250 qualified players, Westbrook is tied for 234th in RAPTOR and tied for 246th in WAR.
The Lakers made several other moves this summer, the majority of which deserve incomplete marks (minus the obvious A earned by Carmelo Anthony). But Westbrook's cost—in salary and trade chips—and super-sized role meant he would always make or break this offseason, leaving the front office feeling more buyer's remorse than anything.
New Orleans Pelicans
What, exactly, did the Pelicans have against Lonzo Ball?
For whatever reason, they decided they were somehow better off without him, so they fielded offers well before the trade deadline, then sign-and-swapped him to the Chicago Bulls for Tomas Satoransky (in and out of the rotation), Garrett Temple (meh) and a future second-round pick.
Yes, that really was the extent of the exchange. While Ball is busy helping transform the Bulls into Eastern Conference juggernauts, the Pelicans are crashing and burning near the bottom of the West.
New Orleans' offense is barely functional (25th), and its defense should never be viewed by the squeamish (29th). Ball's direct replacement, Devonte' Graham—whom the Pels gave up a future first-round pick to pay $47.3 million—is shooting worse than 39 percent (like he always has) and letting opponents shoot a full five percentage points higher than they normally do.
Granted, with Zion Williamson still not back from offseason foot surgery and Brandon Ingram having already lost time to a right hip injury, life in the Big Easy would probably be rough even if Ball was still around. But for a franchise trying (and failing) to build a foundation, losing Lonzo was always a curious decision at best, and the passage of time is only making it worse.
The good news for the Kings is they didn't have enough major decisions to make to really botch the offseason. The better news is their most significant calls are working out: Richaun Holmes looks great on his new $46.5 million deal, and No. 9 pick Davion Mitchell can lean on his lockdown defense until his offense comes around.
So where's the bad news? Sacramento isn't getting much mileage out of overloading the center spot.
If the Kings trusted Holmes enough to pay him, why did they feel the need to add Alex Len in free agency and trade for Tristan Thompson? Did they remember they also had Damian Jones and Chimezie Metu on the roster? Did they forget they just spent the 39th pick on yet another center, Neemias Queta? Had they already accepted that all bridges to Marvin Bagley III were burned and abandoned hope of at least restoring his trade value?
Or did they think the NBA was on the verge of time-traveling back to an era when interior play was all the rage?
Sacramento isn't getting enough out of the players behind Holmes, and it never will. The Kings put too many resources into the position, and there aren't enough available minutes to put them to use. Meanwhile, the forward spots underwhelm beyond Harrison Barnes, and Bagley's trade value is in the tank. Not great.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.